Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Australian Open 2012 [Print without images]

Tuesday, January 10, 2012
These five need a kick in the caboose

By Ravi Ubha
ESPN.com

A new year means a new start for the pros on the tennis circuit. For those who struggled in 2011, it's a chance to revive and put the woes behind them.

With the Australian Open less than a week away, here are five players who need to reawaken after especially frustrating campaigns.

Men

Mikhail Youzhny: Mikhail Youzhny often makes headlines.

He was the first man to come back to win from two sets down in the so-called "live" fifth match of a Davis Cup final. He attracted a cult following for smacking himself in the head with his racket in Miami and prevailed against Richard Gasquet in one of the best matches in recent Aussie Open history.

Then late last year, he graduated with a PhD in philosophy, replacing the retired Mario Ancic as the brainiac of the men's tour.

Perhaps it was too much to ask for the talented Youzhny to back up his fine 2010, when he finished in the top 10, but not many would have forecast his alarming drop. Three of his four semifinals came in the "250s," and he had losing streaks of three, three and four. By year's end, his ranking tumbled to 35th.

With the Russian turning 30 last June, this could be his last chance to string together a consistently strong year.

Early 2012 form: Good. Youzhny advanced to the quarterfinals in Doha, Qatar.

Fernando Verdasco: The 2009 Australian Open seems like so long ago. Back then, Verdasco played big-man tennis, going for his first serve and crushing forehands. He was aggressive rather than simply trading from the baseline and waiting too long to pull the trigger.

Verdasco followed up his '09 breakthrough with a solid 2010 but waned in 2011.

With the exception of the Estoril Open, he flopped during the spring clay-court swing -- in which he impressed a year earlier -- only advancing past the third round of a major once, and fizzled on Davis Cup doubles duty alongside pal Feliciano Lopez. In a match that might have turned his season around, Verdasco couldn't put away Rafael Nadal in Cincinnati.

Having celebrated his 28th birthday last November, Verdasco has more time than Youzhny to reverse his fortunes.

Early 2012 form: Mediocre. At the Hopman Cup, Verdasco beat two players he should have (one was the always banged-up Lleyton Hewitt). But then Gasquet comfortably dispatched Verdasco.

Stanislas Wawrinka: With a game fit for a lengthy stint in the top 10, Wawrinka gave his fans hope when he flourished under Peter Lundgren at the end of 2010 and early in 2011.

It was good while it lasted.

Stanislas Wawrinka
Stan the Man made his mark a couple of years ago, but he hasn't been able to build from that success.

The "other" Swiss started 2011 by racing out to a 17-4 record. The rest of the way, however, he sank to 18-16. Back to his old ways.

The site of his Grand Slam breakthrough in 2010, the most recent U.S. Open left Wawrinka with harsher memories: The 26-year-old was upset by Donald Young. It appeared Wawrinka quarreled with Lundgren during the loss. Thus it was no surprise that they parted company after the tourney.

Early 2012 form: Bad. Wawrinka, the defending champion, won a match at the Chennai Open before losing to then world No. 120 Go Soeda in straight sets.

Women

Jarmila Gajdosova: Armed with one of the biggest serves and forehands in the women's game, Gajdosova should be in the top 15. Early in 2011, it appeared as if the fiery Aussie would get there.

Gajdosova won her second career title at the Moorilla Hobart International and went 15-6 through early March, around the time she battled personal problems (splitting from tennis hubby Sam Groth).

But Gajdosova couldn't maintain her level, falling in more than half her remaining encounters (not including the Fed Cup) and suffering a six-match losing streak in the summer.

As an immediate goal, getting to the second round in Melbourne would be a start. She's 0-for-6 in the main draw playing at home.

Early 2012 form: Poor. Gajdosova was double-bageled by Marion Bartoli (she blamed a trip to the dentist) at the Hopman Cup and lost in straight sets to Li Na.

Shahar Peer: The ever-gutsy Peer rose to No. 11 in the rankings last season and was one victory away from cracking the top 10. The Israeli didn't get there, though, topped by an emerging Julia Goerges in Charleston, S.C.

From that stage onward, her performances were largely forgettable. Minus a runner-up showing in Washington, D.C., Peer faded to 7-12. A back injury didn't help.

Peer doesn't possess the game to routinely feature in the top 10, but sinking to 37th was disproportional. She'll no doubt be looking to return to the top 20.

Early 2012 form: Not bad. Though she lost her opener at the Brisbane International, Peer extended second-seeded Andrea Petkovic to three sets.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.